Man Of Steel Movie Review: The Humanity of Superman

Man Of Steel Poster 2013 Superman Henry Cavill

Man Of Steel – Movie Review & Discussion (Spoilers)

Director Zack Synder’s Superman reboot delivered destruction, spectacle and a bold new take on a revered character. Man of Steel is a good summer blockbuster, breaking box office records with the biggest June opening ever in the U.S. but it’s missing something from making it great.

Continue reading my discussion with Cibarra as we give our uncensored thoughts on why ‘Man Of Steel’ is less than super, the humanity of Superman and on the controversial ending. 

Cibarra: I have so many comic book friends who I’ve been dying to talk about this but sadly they haven’t gone and seen it. I too felt something wasn’t right that I couldn’t put my finger on. But after having a few days to think about it, I think I might know what’s wrong. First let me give you the things I saw right away that I felt were wrong.

#1. Superman not saving his dad, that was ridiculous. I’m pretty sure pa Kent dies of old age or cancer or something like that. I’m not saying it has to be like the comics but I am saying he should never die from any accident or natural disaster. Just like we all know Superman is going to save Lois. We should know the Kent’s are safe back at the farm.

#2. Superman drinking a beer! That’s the equivalent of him smoking a cigarette! It’s just not his F*cking character! Logan/Wolverine smokes cigars because it’s cool, he’s edgy. Superman is the boy scout of all boy scouts.

#3. Superman killing Zod. This was the clincher. When I saw this, I knew something was seriously wrong. This really weighed on me long after the movie was over. Never in over 75 years of superman comics has he ever killed anyone other than Doomsday. Well that’s what I thought, there was a story about 3 kryptonians I read about but won’t get into. Doomsday wasn’t killed by a killing blow but by the massive amount of damage he received.

Having a villain die from that trauma is one thing, snapping another’s neck is completely different. I mean there were so many things Superman could have done instead of snapping Zods neck. He could have flown him away or used his super breath to create a frozen wall in front of the family or freeze Zods head. But snapping his neck should never have been an option. Speaking of the family, why should I feel anything for them when I just watched half of Metropolis get completely destroyed.

To figure out what’s wrong with this movie first I had to ask myself, what makes Superman super? What makes him the greatest superhero of all time?

And the answer is simple, he is the ultimate good guy, he is perfection. He isn’t some lost soul looking for his place in the world. He isn’t some scared kid who doesn’t want to use his powers because he’s afraid of being called a freak. He knows exactly who he is. He is Clark Kent, a man raised on a farm in a small town in Kansas by two loving parents. So even though Man of Steel has the epic battle I think of when I think of a Superman movie. It doesn’t have the right Superman.

man-of-steel-henry-cavill-superman

Sidekick: I think you nailed it in asking what makes Superman super? All the issues you brought up boil down to the characterization of Superman which in my mind is the biggest challenge in rebooting the franchise. Let’s just forget the last reboot attempt … Superman Returns shall we?

A common complaint from comic fans is that Superman is not relatable and relevant to the modern audience. I think the filmmakers tried to address this issue by focusing on Superman’s humanity, specifically his vulnerability and fallibility.

Imagine growing up without knowing your birth parents, living in a world where you feel like an outsider or freak and not being able to be your true self. It’s plausible this could make any mere mortal a tad cynical and a bit of a social outcast. However, these qualities are not typically portrayed in Superman (as far as I know) because the Kents raised him with compassion, strong morals and a sense of belonging .

So I believe Man of Steel writers’ intent is to show the journey of how Superman battles these very human flaws and dilemmas in a way that viewers can identify with. Many of us can put ourselves in the shoes of a bullied kid or someone trying to find their way in a world where there is not always a clear ethical choice.

The moral complexity of Man of Steel is brought to the forefront when Clark is emotionally torn over allowing Pa Kent to sacrifice himself thus protecting his son’s secret identity for the greater good of the world. In a way, Clark needed to let this notion die with Pa Kent, so he could eventually embrace Jor El’s contrasting vision of him as humanity’s savior.

I’ve always thought of Superman as a hero that we should all aspire to. He should always represent the very best of humanity: Righteous, valiant, a symbol of hope. But like you pointed out, the problem is that by portraying Superman with a compromised moral code it takes away from what makes him super.

At first it didn’t deeply trouble me that he snapped Zod’s neck but I did feel a disconnect that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  As the climatic scene unfolded, I was thinking just gouge Zod’s eye out … that will stop the heat vision! But that’s me, not Superman. After some thought, your absolutely right. He should always find a solution that wouldn’t involve taking a life. Why? Because he’s Superman.

man of steel zod

Although Jonathan Kent’s self-sacrificing death made for a heartfelt and character defining moment, Superman should not be conflicted to save a life even if there are greater stakes at play. Another way the writer could have handled it is showing that despite his super powers he can’t save his father from sickness, a natural death, which would be very human and compelling.

Unfortunately it’s a challenging task for the writers to focus on the “Man” in Man of Steel without losing what makes him “Super”.  Even though I realize he saved Earth, saved Lois, saved the family from getting heat visioned, etc (damn, he ruined a lot of buildings), I never felt he got the big hero moment – you know the adrenaline fueled, fist pump – that came close to *spoilers* the aerial rescue scene in Iron Man 3.

I understand the writer’s need to go in this direction. I’ve also read the director’s explanation on the ending and recognize the great qualities Superman still embodies.  But for me, it’s not so much about an aversion to redefining Superman or justifying why Superman should not have killed General Zod, it’s simply about the feeling I’m left with.

In the end, Superman as a hero didn’t emotionally resonate with me. I didn’t leave the theater inspired or filled with hope which is what I think the greatest super hero should do. After watching Man of Steel, I don’t want to be Superman. I still want to be the Dark Knight.

Man of Steel Henry Cavill

Here is Man of Steel’s Director Zack Synder’s reason for the ending:

“If it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained,” Snyder said. “I felt like, if we could find a way of making it impossible for him – Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out – I felt like that could also make you go, ‘This is the why of him never killing again.’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it, and he’s just, like, ‘How could I ever kill again?’”

For a different perspective which discusses the precedent of Superman killing 3 Kryptonians (in an alternate universe) check out Hero Worship: The Complexity of Man Of Steel.

Extra special thanks to Cibarra for his contribution!

Do you like the fresh take on Superman? What’s your opinion on the ending?

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About Eddie@Jaccendo

Movies, TV shows, comics, and video game news & review.

Posted on June 22, 2013, in Comics, Movies, Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I’ll be back and read the whole thing but for now i’ll just argue a bit. Superman has killed 13 times in the comics and in Superman II he killed Zod. Just feel it needs to be said 😀

  2. Superb review. You captured everything about what went wrong with Man of Steel’s version of Supes.

    I too did not like this movie as a Superman adaptation. Check out my take on this movie:

    http://buddy2blogger.blogspot.com/2013/06/man-of-steel-review-spoiler-free-henry-cavill-superman-2013-zack-snyder-chris-nolan-justice-league.html

    B2B.

  3. I think my jaw dropped when he snapped Zod’s neck. Doctor Who does not use guns. Superman does not kill. He just doesn’t! And you’re right, there are so many other things he could have done. Don’t really like Synder’s explanation, either. And why didn’t he just go get the dog? He wouldn’t have had to reveal his powers, he could have just gone, grabbed the dog and gone back to the bridge. He just wouldn’t have been hurt, that was all. Or even have it so Clark wasn’t around when his dad was killed. It really bugged me. As for the drinking beer, maybe it was just to show that, hey, Superman’s been updated. I didn’t even really pick up on that, but arguably beer is such a normal part of life now, you don’t have to be ‘edgy’ to drink it.

    And he didn’t really seem to save that many people. (Not directly, anyway) There were people falling to their deaths from ‘choppers around him and he just lets them fall! He always seemed too focused on Lois.

    Thanks for the like on my review! Took one look at your blog and just thought “Why am I not following this!”

    • I also have some issues with Synder’s explanations. Perhaps they should have cut out a flashback or some of the action to make room for a scene where Superman/Clark talks about taking Zod’s life and how that affects him.

      The set up for the tornado scene does have lapses in logic. I was also thinking why doesn’t Clark just get the dog, it’s not like he’d be in danger of the tornado.

      I think the writer’s wanted to show Clark is a regular dude by drinking beer and wearing a Kansas shirt. We’ll as regular as a super powered man from another planet can be.

      I would have liked more moments of heroism as well, the kind where I feel the awesomeness of Superman.

      Thanks as well for liking my review, commenting and following! It definitely gives me more motivation to pump out more reviews.

  4. #1. His father didnt think Clark or the world was ready and because Clark trusted his father he let him die. I liked the scene, granted it could have been done a little better but its a tough one to get across.

    #2. He was raised in Kansas, in the scene he was watching a football game. The scene looked realistic and whats wrong with a beer, he wasnt flat out drunk.

    #3. I’d argue beating a person brutally to death is far worse than simple breaking Zod’s neck. The death toll is already way too high, how long do you want Zod to kill before he’s stopped. What’s next? Oh yeah he should have found another way, how?! He had equel power if not more than Superman.

    And lastly on your finale point about “he is perfection. He isn’t some lost soul” I prefer the comics when he is troubled where small flaws break through the armour. The problem with a perfect person is I simply cannot relate to that being flawed as I am 😀

    Now my main point in all of this and pretty much why I think you feel this way is that its an origin story. He isnt the perfect poster boy for superheroes because he isnt really one, not yet anyway. He barely learned to fly by the time Zod invaded. I think to see the superhero we know from comics and cartoons we’ll have to wait for him to grow in the sequels and earn the name ‘Superman’ 😀

    • I enjoyed reading your points. They are very well thought out and written. In the second half of the review, I’ve considered many of those points as well.

      I can’t speak for Cibarra, but my visceral reaction after watching Man Of Steel is that I did not feel deeply connected to Superman as a hero. It’s a reaction that is not based on an intellectual argument, it’s a gut feeling. I think I tried to process why I had that feeling in the write up.

      I understand that the intent is to show the origin story or journey of becoming Superman. He has great qualities, however I would have connected with him more if he demonstrated certain intrinsic beliefs and values that would form the foundation of why he becomes the greatest super hero. Of course, I do recognize he saved a school bus full of kids and it weighs heavy on him for what he did to save Earth etc.

      This can be said for many eras, but we live in turbulent times; scanning the daily news is proof enough. And the world is not black and white. The moral complexity and depiction of Superman in Man of Steel speaks to the world we live in, a time and place where people won’t relate to the boy scout. But perhaps in these times what I wanted from a Superman movie is something that gives us hope and is life affirming. To me that’s the power of what Superman represents. Some might say this movie did give them hope for the future but that’s not the feeling I was left with.

      At the same time, I can also understand why some fans loved this Superman for many valid reasons including the points you mentioned. Great discussing with you! I definitely respect your thoughts and glad you loved the movie! I wish I could have loved it too. 🙂

      • I think and hope that the sequel will give you what u want. With the much more breathing room and characters already set up they can really expand into the full superman role. We only had time for parts of him in this film but the others will come in time 😀

  5. Interesting review. I haven’t seen this movie – not the biggest Superman fan – a friend did see it. With no real knowledge or background of the Superman lore, even she said it was an Okay movie but seemed to be missing some plot lines. The one thing about Superman is if you try to change his core being, he’s no longer Superman. Seems like Hollywood wants to make Superman fit into all the other superhero types. Don’t think it will work.

  6. Man of Steel has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Some elements of the movie such as the action and Krypton scenes is quite good. But like you said, somewhere along the way of changing Superman’s core being, the foundation of what makes him the ultimate super hero got lost. I was actually engaged through most of the movie but I did sense something was missing by the end. I do have hopes that the sequel can convert me and perhaps others into becoming a big Superman fan. Thanks so much for checking out the review and sharing your thoughts!

  7. Hey Sidekick Reviews! We’ve nominated you for The Liebster Award – a blogging award for blogs that have less than 200 followers and are thoroughly enjoyable! From one blog to another we are sharing the love! We loved reading through your blog and felt you deserved it, so check out our page for what you have to do next!!

  8. Nice review. I know the sequels will expand on this universe and make it better, but I’m a bit disappointed with this one right now.

    • Though it didn’t meet my high expectations, I’m looking forward to the Man of Steel sequels. Hopefully they can build upon the 1st movie and iron out the wrinkles. Thank so much for checking out the review and commenting!

  9. Lil' Ass Kicker

    Hello there.
    You are not alone – as I can see !

    Just saw the movie on the big screen.
    Feel like that “Hollywood washing machine” pulled me out the spin dryer before it stopped !
    Yeah, it hurts a bit. Did I just watched “Man of Steel” ? Or was it “Man of Steal” ?
    Allo police ? That big blue thing with a good ol’ fashioned $ on his chest took my money !
    Seriously, if Znyder releases the cut scenes, it could be longer than that 2h+ show I saw.
    By the way, I wish he could set the narrative part of the movie free…
    You got it, I intend to say that “Man of Steel” probably is the first story-napping of history.

    That being said, one can’t deny that it was also “Man of Style” after all.
    I tried hard to “Smell what Znyder was cooking” but I lost the plot, so I focused on the CGI.
    Wait. Talking about plot and CGI, someone please help me :
    To which one belongs Lois Lane’s nose ? Yeah… It still bugs me..
    The real bad guy out of that definitely should have been Igotyournose-man.
    So Latoya and MJ would have been.. “Avenged”. Ops, sorry, this is another story.

    Brackets closed, the movie could have easily been split in 3.
    “The fall of Krypton”, a fantastic movie about Kryptonians very special society and customs ;
    “The human that never born”, Talking of an otherlandish trying to integrate our world ;
    “The death of two martians”, Bowie-style movie dealing with Kent’s neglecting his roots
    and his foe trying to create what he has been created to protect (headache coming..?).

    I don’t understand the why of the flashbacks and cuts.
    In the end, the movie looks like an extended commercial break, inside a commercial break.
    For someone that discovered the Superman universe, it was far too much. Spin dryer.
    I also believe that “Man of Steel” was made BY a fan, FOR the fans. Pretty confidential.

    But in the other hand, I absolutely loved some few points of the movie.
    For the first time in a long time, I saw an actually dangerous villain. Zod was a true threat.
    His character was not just a psycho acting wildly. He was openly created to grow as a foe
    but truly became one when he ironically tried to escape his fate and have the good role.
    Visually impressive and made powerful by CGI, he definitely has a strong impact on me.
    His death scene was also a shocker of the year candidate. Kent looked evil at that moment.

    Another good point of the movie was the fight and action scenes.
    A la Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, but frankly assumed. Snyder detroyed half
    Metropolis as you noted Sidekick, but he did it in the eye of everyone. I’m not from U.S.A.,
    but I can imagine what a trauma it could be to see towers collapsing like back in 2001.
    It’s something no one else probably would have considered to picture on screen that way.
    It could have been a bad talking point but the “video game” aspect of it helps to accept it.

    Also loved Kryptonians fighting suits design. Reminded me of H.R. Gieger work on Alien.

    Snyder’s shacking a lot his camera was something new also. Not always necessary but..
    Well, the soulder camera brings some realistic material to super hero movie I guess.

    It was my view on the fresh new Superman reboot “Man of Steel” by Zack Snyder.
    Hope you enjoyed to read and if you haven’t seen the movie yet, give it a try.
    It may have frustrated the Superman fanbase like IronMan3 frustrated Marvel ones,
    but it’s still a good experience and it set the scene for something very promising !

    Lil Ass Kicker = L.A.K. = K.A.L. like KHAL-el. Eh ! 🙂

    • Hello, always nice to hear from you!

      Haha, this movie is also a product of the “Hollywood Meat Grinder”. 🙂 Throw in everything from the action, destruction, CGI effects, supposed romance, controversial ending to the great marketing blitz etc … but it bit off more than it could chew. I do give points for a solid effort! It’s a money making machine but not quite the billion dollar movie the studio hoped for, at least not yet.

      Zack Synder’s recipe had too many ingredients. Yeah it had style, but I was hungry for something more after the movie. If there are tonnes of deleted scenes it makes me wonder if Synder knew what he was really doing?

      Man of Steel took a “shot gun” approach with many interesting ideas but not enough of them were fully developed or hit the target. Yeah, like you said it’s 3 movies rolled into one. The “Fall Of Krypton” was well done … I liked everything from the babies born in the pods to setting up the “avenge the father” arc.

      I generally enjoy origin stories so for the most part the ‘alien living amongst us movie’ worked for me though I had some issues with the characterization as mentioned in the write up. I liked the non-linear approach however some of the transitions could be smoother and the flashbacks could have connected better with present day events to make them vital. Plus there were one too many bully scenes when they could have shown another aspect to Clark’s childhood.

      Speaking of Roland Emmerich, the last part of the movie turned out to be a sci-fi disaster flick. Although the build up was nicely established in the first half, by the end they forgot to make it a superhero movie. It had the fights, the action, but I did not connect with the hero.

      Also, Lois and her nose were pointless in the final 3rd; she wasn’t organically integrated into the story. I like the “Smallville” TV version of Lois Lane better: she’s also driven, smart, maybe too talkative for the movie but is fun and added an exciting energy to her scenes.

      How much destruction in Metropolis does it take to satiate movie fans? There is controversy about how Superman couldn’t prevent Metropolis from getting destroyed. I also was thinking about the terrorist attacks on 9/11 as I watched the buildings collapse. I did not expect the imagery to be so direct, but I believe it was carefully considered by the writers and Synder. Perhaps this version of Superman reflects the kind of post 9/11 super hero Americans can relate to?

      I’ve previously watched the behind the scenes/documentary on H.R. Gieger designs and creations for Alien on youtube. I can see how they might have inspired the Kryptonian soldier gear which looked fantastic. Plus the invisible face shield/helmet was a nice element to the design.

      The actress that played Faora has a great intense, menacing look and her fight scenes are awesome. Overall, I liked Zod as a villain. It’s interesting that his motives are genetically pre-programed which contrasted Superman’s natural birth. Zod just wanted to save his planet and revive Krypton on Earth.

      When Superman destroyed that possibility, the enraged, vengeful soldier within Zod took over. But when choice or free will is eliminated, for me it takes away from a character’s development or impact. It does make one think how much of who we are is based on nature vs nurture and why we do the things that we do.

      Even though Man of Steel delivers the summer action flick experience, I’d be surprised if most movie-goers will be converted into big Superman fanatics. If they leave the theater believing it’s only his god-like powers that makes him super then I think the movie missed its mark.

      I look forward to the sequel because of the possibility of a more focused story that allows Superman and his relationships to evolve. I love your take on Man of Steel. As always your comments are so funny, witty and thoughtful! Thanks for discussing this movie with me! Haha, Khal … like a Dothraki warrior leader from Game Of Thrones! 🙂

  10. Really nice review. I completely agree. Although, the one crazy thing everyone seems to have forgotten is that Superman killed Zod in Superman II, as well. Nobody minded that one. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about the humanity that should have been in Man of Steel. Great discussion.

    • Man of Steel has generated a lot of thoughtful discussion across the internet and I hope the sequels will continue to do so as well. To be honest, as an initial reaction the neck snapping alone wasn’t that troubling to me. But in trying to pinpoint why I didn’t feel the awesomeness of Superman and left the theater uninspired, the ending played an important factor. On the other hand, I can understand why other moviegoers loved what Superman did and needed to do to save Earth. Glad you enjoyed the discussion and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Britton Thompson

    You are so far off base in your presumptions of Superman before you ever entered the theatre, that it affected your review.
    1. In every Superman incarnation, Johnathan Kent dies; always before Martha also.
    2. Superman has killed more than Doomsday. He killed General Zod & 2 other Kryptonians in 1987. He feels he can pass judgement on other beings who are also from Krypton. He knows the abilities their unique physiology provides them, and feels justified in acting as the last avatar of justice from Krypton.
    3. Seriously; drinking a beer? He wasn’t smoking meth for God’s sake. Your presumption is flawed; Clark is not a stiff, hall monitor, or “ultra boy scout” as you believe. He has drank before in comics & the films even. His alien physiology acts similar to Captain America’s; he can never get drunk, just relaxed.
    Your flawed presumptions affected your review.

  12. Britton Thompson

    Personally, I did not want him to kill Zod; simply because I love him as a character. He’s my favorite Superman villain. However, I realize Shannon was never going to return for a sequel, so why not kill him? There was no method of re-opening the Phantom Zone, and Zod’s is a threat on an extinction-level. Also, it was Zod getting what he wanted. He wanted his revenge on Kal El by forcing him to kill him. Zod told Kal that killing Jor El has haunted him everyday of his life since; in addition to no longer having a reason to continue living with resurrecting Krypton now off the table completely. So what do you do if you are Zod? He’s traveled the galaxy for 33 years; there is nothing out there for him. There is no way of opening the Phantom Zone again. So he attacks Superman, taunts him by telling him that death is the only outcome of their epic brawl(the best fight scene of ALL the comic book movies). Zod got what he wanted; he only lives for Krypton, so he is put out of his misery of living a life without it. Also, he gets a revenge in the process. Now Clark will live the rest of his life haunted by killing Zod, the way Zod was haunted by killing Jor El.

    • Zod as a character is great but I’m not sure Man Of Steel’s version of him captured my imagination in the way that I hoped. I did like the idea of genetically engineered Kryptonians, it’s interesting to see a character like Zod struggle against their fate; of who they are versus who they want to be. Yes, Clark will be haunted by killing Zod, I think that was the writers intent to show why he adopts a no kill policy. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion.

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